“It (Russia) is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”
Winston Churchill in 1939
My views on social media closely resemble the views of Churchill on Russia. Indeed, I would go further and say that my inability to grasp even the basics of social media can be extended to most aspects of the Internet.
However – for the purposes of the following notes – I will limit myself to considering why I have decided to look at the possibility of securing a precarious foothold on the lower slopes of the social media.
For most of my 77 years, I have acquired my information about what is going on the world from traditional sources, the time honoured print and broadcast media. I grew up on a diet of the Daily Express, the Bolton Evening News, and the Home Service with occasional input from British Pathe news.
For the greater part of the following half century my sources were The Times, the BBC – a mixture of TV and Radio 4 – together with magazines that broadly supported my thinking at the time.
My input to these sources was very limited – a few of my letters were published in The Times, but rather more failed to make the cut.
I learned, possibly incorrectly, that the selection criteria employed by The Times to determine which letters made the cut were that the letter should contain a fulsome endorsement of some or other aspect of The Times, be very brief and should make just one point. There were no problems in satisfying the third criterion given the constraints imposed by the second criterion.
My luck changed in the summer of 2015 – a time when I had something to say and time to write it, but no outlet for my views.
Tribune magazine published a piece that I had sent in more in hope of publication than in expectation. My luck held in that Tribune published every article that I submitted for the next 12 months or so.
Around the middle of 2016 my fortunes changed for the worse – Tribune published just three articles by me out of 20 or so submitted from the middle of 2016. I had and still have no idea why Tribune decided to hand me the black spot, but then I was never clear as to the publication criteria employed by the magazine.
I did notice that my fall from grace coincided with the publication of a great deal of material under the name of Ian Hernon, the magazine’s deputy editor. I also noticed that most of the Hernon items were simply warmed up items from other sources but I got the message from Ian (little Sir Echo) Hernon and sought alternative outlets.
A couple of other Tribune points before moving on.
In the two years of my association with the magazine I noted that the number of letters from readers that were included in the 50 or so editions that appeared could have been counted on the fingers of one hand – not much evidence of engagement with the readers of the magazine – or was it that there were not many readers to engage with?
It has to be said in favour of Tribune, that it managed to find space for the contributions of former black sheep, including Dennis McShane, until recently confined in one of our penal institutions (some minor difficulties with regard to his parliamentary expenses) and Joe Haines.
The latter remains an intriguing figure. There is a letter from Mr Haines in the latest New Statesman – July 7 – in which he asserts that Mr Corbyn is not up to the job. We must respect the view of a man who worked tirelessly to advance the career of the portly pilferer, Mr Robert Maxwell.
The biography of Mr Maxwell by Mr Haines is a book which merits a prominent place is any collection of hagiography. Sadly his biography only takes us up to 1988 – the last three words are -“To be continued”.
Mr Maxwell walked the plank in November, 1991 leaving an unfortunate legacy of large scale sharp practice.
What to do to bring my views to the attention of a wider audience?
I suspected that the prospects of Mr Richard Littlejohn at the Mail or of Lord Finkelstein at The Times being given the old heave-ho to make way for me were remote. Paul Dacre was not likely to dispense with the services of Richard Littlejohn, or those of Sarah Vine, although I suspect that the services of Sarah Vine would be rather more dispensable than those of Richard Littlejohn. Similarly, Mr Murdoch was and is unlikely to dispose of the services of Lord Finkelstein or those of Philip Collins, although I suspect that the services of Mr Collins are rather more dispensable than those of Danny Finkelstein. I take it that we all agree that the contributions of Deborah Ross for The Times justifies breaking the golden rule – she is indispensable.
A word about columnists. This sub group within the wider profession of journalism is one which has long fascinated me.
My conclusion about this group, after many years of reflection, is that columnists can be divided into two categories, There are those who, once upon a time, had something worthwhile or interesting to say. Having said their bit, they continue to cling to their respective columns saying nothing much to anyone in particular. The other category consists of those who never had anything to say in the first place – this group largely owe their jobs to nepotism.
Over the years there have been a few admirable exceptions to this general bleak rule. Pride of place must go to the late great Bernard Levin, and, in more recent times, Matthew Parris, who fills his columns in The Times with an endless stream of pieces which combine a lively imagination with a tangible sense of engagement with the matters under discussion. We admire the work of Richard Littlejohn, but we sense his frustration as he confronts his sworn enemies, the Guardianistas. Like Dr Slammer, the fiery surgeon from The Pickwick Papers, at times his indignation chokes him.
A brief digression on magazines aimed at the movers and shakers
I noted earlier the ebb and flow, and especially the decline and fall of my fortunes as a Tribune columnist.
I had no luck at all in my overtures to New Statesman, Spectator, and Prospect. As an occasional subscriber to these magazines I found myself from time to time receiving pleas that I renew my subscription and I noted the zeal with which each organ proclaimed its unique blend of inspiring content supplied by our most gifted writers. These qualities were not always readily discernible, but advertisers will be advertisers.
At one stage, I replied to these eloquent appeals to renew my subscription by offering to do so in return for an agreement by the magazine to publish one of my submissions. This imaginative approach on my part did not trigger anything by way of a response.
I was reminded of these ineffective attempts when I read a piece by Jason Crowley, the editor of New Statesman in this week’s edition of his organ. The piece was headed “The guilty men of Brexit, Churchill, Boris Johnson and the bullseye of disaster” – it dealt with the subject of who might be deemed to be responsible for the Brexit fiasco.
Given that I had submitted a piece headed “The Guilty Brexiteers” to Tribune on July 2, 2016, that is, just a week after the referendum result had been announced, I was slightly disconcerted to discover one or two similarities between the content of the Cowley piece and the content of my own piece.
These similarities included references to the pamphlet “Guilty Men” written in just 4 days by Michael Foot and two other journalists about who should be made responsible for the defeat of the UK forces in France.
Obviously – purely a coincidence.
The great game changer
At just after 10pm on Thursday, June 8, Mr David Dimbleby announced the results of a series of exit polls on the General Election called by Mrs May in order to improve her negotiating position ahead of the difficulty discussions to arrange the details of the Brexit process that lay ahead.
Sadly, the outcome was not quite what Mrs May had wished for and instead she got the thumbs down from the voters.
Mrs May was not the only major player in the game to be disappointed. In no special order, Mr Rupert Murdoch, Mr Paul Dacre and most professional pundits got the outcome wrong. So did I – but what did I know?
It was not a case of joy unbounded in many powerful circles both in the UK and globally, but it was said that Mr Jean-Claude Juncker and Mr Donald Tusk were not unduly distressed by the Brexit election outcome.
Questions were asked on June 9th and are still being asked by Mr Dacre and Mr Murdoch.
- Who saw it coming?
- Who are these bolshie voters? Who the hell do they think are?
We (that is, Mr Dacre and Mr Murdoch) went to a great deal of trouble of trouble and incurred considerable costs to inform the masses on how to vote and what do the ungrateful bastards go and do – vote the other way in sufficient numbers to pull the rug from under us.
Did the unexpected outcome hint at a swing away from the influence from traditional print and broadcasting media, and, if yes, what communications systems had moved in to fill the void?
The social media
The timing of the great game changing election coincided purely fortuitously with the end of my gloomy search for an outlet for my opinions. This search had brought me to the last chance saloon – The Social Media.
I had made arrangements just prior to the general election to publish my views via a Blog – Holdenforth.
I was assured by those in the know – that is just about everyone apart from me – that social media were the future, that the days of Murdoch and his fellow conventional media moguls were numbered. I was also informed that even the BBC was not immune to these sea changes, that its influence was waning and that its days of dominance were over.
It was said that young voters, hitherto supine in the national political arena, had warmed to and opted for Mr Corbyn. And these striplings were said to comprise by far the greater part of the social media users.
So – on the basis that if you can’t beat them then join them – I got my show on the road.
I was not troubled by the arcane complexities of setting up a blog – that was all done for me by my son. The Holdenforth blog operates via a system whereby I send material by e mail for inclusion in the Blog and my son does the rest, including checking to remove errors and solecisms. (The editor would like to point out at this stage that this is done on a best efforts basis and apologises profusely for any errors and solecisms that slip through the net.)
For me, the great advantage of a blog as opposed to conventional publication is that I can say exactly what I like – a great relief who one who has been inhibited throughout his life by a succession of constraints imposed by those set in authority over me.
A wonderful feeling of liberation!
Mr Trump and the social media
“ The Trump world was more like – let’s say a lot of different things, they don’t even need to be coherent, and observe through the wonderful new platforms that allow you to observe how people respond and observe what works —”
“That the Republicans didn’t lose the can be attributed in large measure to their expert manipulation of social media– Donald Trump is our first Face book president”
“What our Facebook president has discovered is that it actually pays only to please some of the people some of the time. The rest simply don’t count.”
The above quotes were taken from “How he used Facebook to win” by Sue Halpern in the New York Review of Books, June 8, 2017.
The addiction of Mr Trump to social media in general and to Twitter in particular had long been noted, and this aspect of his communications preferences became more and more pronounced as the USA presidential campaign proceeded.
Veteran pundits predicted that his addiction for the unusual – indeed unprecedented -communications approach via social media would decline in the unlikely event that he were to win the election.
He did win, but his preference for communication via Twitter has, if anything, increased. His terse pronouncements add daily to the delight of his followers and to the dismay of his opponents – numerically roughly equal.
For my part I took and take the view that if social media are good enough for Mr Trump then they are good enough for me.
I am still treading warily through the tangled complexities of the social media. I began by consulting the internet and was soon drowning in the tsunami of information available on the various branches of social media.
I toyed with the idea of abbreviating Social Media to the acronym SM but I vaguely recall that SM has a pre-existing and somewhat unseemly significance. I shall stay with Social Media.
Blogging is said to be relatively straightforward – you simply add your latest thoughts to your blog – or someone does so on your behalf and hey presto – it’s there for the world to read.
I was slightly disconcerted to read – on the internet, where else – that personal blogs are read overwhelmingly by relatives and friends of the blogger and by no one else. On reflection, I was consoled by the thought that in my case the readership might well match or even exceed the readership that I may have acquired at Tribune.
What about Facebook, the brain child of Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues?
I was pleased to note that “Facebook has more than 2 billion active users as of June, 2017.” This impressive figure indicates that the art of conversation is alive and well. For the moment I will put the task of joining these electronic chattering classes onto the back burner.
I gather that the YouTube branch of social media enables users to place videos onto the net and that these videos can be viewed free of charge. Again – one for the back burner for the time being.
Linked in – I have been aware of the existence of this service for some time because I have been advised via e mail that suitable career opportunities are available to me should I so wish. Thus far I have declined these invitations but I may well explore them in the near future. The adverse economic consequences of Brexit grow daily more ominous, my British Steel pension is thought to be at risk and I should hate to think that my meeting with the Grim Reaper would be followed by interment in a pauper’s grave.
Twitter – the branch of Social Media favoured by Mr Trump.
I have not yet sought to access Twitter – its very brevity daunts me – I am a prolix man and need rather more than 140 characters just to say hello.
Hash tags – the details of this facility might as well have been written in Chinese as far as I was concerned. Or maybe they were written in Chinese?
Right now I find myself unable to access either Facebook or YouTube – I have no idea why, but I am confident that help is at hand and that the mysterious obstacles will be identified and removed.
This – to me – new technology is a splendid mental challenge for an old timer whose motto is – always look on the bright side of life.
The Social Media are a sure-fire recipe for warding off dementia and Alzheimer’s as we elders of the tribe toil tirelessly at the digital face in so doing keep our little grey cells at full stretch.
As far as I can see my central task going forward is to come up with a plan to boost the circulation of Holdenforth – suggestions on an e mail or via Holdenforth please.
Image courtesy of ITV.com